After years of hard work and a top-notch education, 24-year-old Alonzo Portlock has earned a job as a wealth administrator at Mellon Trust New England and looks forward to applying to law school in the fall. But having grown up as a foster child, the future did not always seem so promising for Portlock. "Before I met Tim, it was sort of like roller-skating with only one skate. But Tim gave me the extra skate," Portlock said.
Portlock is talking about Tim Lynch, a Boston attorney who was assigned as Portlock's court-appointed special advocate through Boston's CASA program when Portlock was just 11 years old. Since then, the CASA program and their own lives have never been the same.
The Boston CASA Program recruits, trains and supervises volunteers from the community to advocate for abused and neglected children. CASA volunteers ("court appointed special advocates") are appointed by judges as guardian ad litems (GALs). These GALs conduct thorough ongoing investigations, present relevant facts to the judge and provide advocacy. CASA/GALs work to ensure that services are being provided to the children while they are in placement.
Lynch initially became interested in CASA after flipping through the MBA's Pro Bono Opportunities Guide. "I always wanted to work with children," said Lynch, a personal injury and consumer rights attorney and partner at Boston's Swartz, McKenna & Lynch LLP. "I didn't have a background in it, but that's the beauty of the CASA program. It pulls people from all walks of life to advocate for children, which is great."
He became a volunteer with Boston CASA in 1991 and hasn't looked back. Since then, he has not only served as a court-appointed special advocate, but currently sits on the board of directors for MassCASA and is the president of Friends of CASA Inc., which provides support to Boston CASA.
"The issues facing these children are overwhelming, and the beauty of CASA is that it connects one volunteer to one case," Lynch explained. Around the United States, there are over 900 CASA programs in operation, including seven in Massachusetts. "The program is so instrumental in the administration of justice in the juvenile court system that, to me, it is indispensable."
Rosemary Connolly, chief of the trial division at the Attorney General's Office and fellow board member at CASA, also believes strongly in the mission of CASA and the impact of volunteers like Lynch. "I'm an adult and could never put up with the conditions these kids suffer every day. CASA offers a wonderful opportunity to provide the structures and resources to allow people to make an impact on kids' lives."
She met Lynch at a law firm before he began volunteering at CASA and described him as having a "heart of gold." Connolly admires the relationship that he and Alonzo developed and the ways in which Lynch became such a beneficial influence in his life. "Tim really worked with Alonzo in a big brother/father kind of way. He taught him how to dress, write his resume and fill out applications. He made sure Alonzo had a place to go over the holidays."
Portlock said that Lynch "kept me from being a stereotypical ‘hood kid. I became someone who could do things on his own." Along the way, Lynch has helped Portlock apply for and gain admittance to Boston College High School and Boston College. When funding was short for Portlock's education, Lynch convinced his business partners to contribute to his tuition.
Today, Portlock remains invested in CASA. "I wanted to help," Portlock said, "and they needed someone." Portlock also joined the board of directors in January, and has also been a spokesman for CASA on a national scale. On a DVD released by the National CASA Association, Portlock talks about his childhood in foster care and Lynch's impact on his life.
"Alonzo is quite an accomplished person and is truly remarkable," Lynch said.
Both Lynch and Connolly urge other attorneys to become involved with CASA. "There are so many success stories in the program," Lynch explained. "There are no disappointments. Just walking into these kids' lives and volunteering, making them realize that someone is out there for them, makes a difference."
CASA Volunteers come from all walks of life. They have a variety of professional, educational and ethnic backgrounds. They are selected on the quality of their objectivity, competence and commitment.